“Can I borrow your Snark?”
With a smile, my friend — and fellow guitar-player — handed me her “Snark,” a small digital tuner for musical instruments. I clipped the device to the top of my guitar and slowly plucked each string, watching the tuner’s display to see if the notes were sharp or flat.
My strings weren’t holding their proper pitch that particular day, and as I struggled to tune them, I was thankful that I only had six to correct. I recalled a harpsichordist I’d known who spent over an hour before each of her concerts patiently calibrating her instrument — all 88 strings. Tool and tuner in hand, she would sit at the keyboard, listening and adjusting until the notes were true.
I remembered another performer, a singer with perfect pitch, who changed guitars throughout her show so that her instrument matched the purity of her voice.
So often we ourselves fall out of tune as the day unfolds. We may start off well — we got a good night’s sleep, we packed our lunches and ironed our clothes the night before; perhaps we even took time to pray and exercise before we left the house.
But soon life’s demands, both great and small, lower our pitch — or make it sharper and more strident. Someone cuts us off in traffic. The kids get in trouble at school. The meeting drags on. The payment didn’t arrive. The midday glance in the mirror nettles us; when did those lines emerge, that hairline recede?
At such times, we need to retune ourselves to the divine pitch. “Seven times a day I praise you,” the psalmist declares (Psalm 119:164).
Accordingly, the church turns to God at regular intervals in a daily sequence of prayers called the Liturgy of the Hours. Also known as the Divine Office, these reflections mark the hours of each day in “a meditative dialogue on the mystery of Christ” according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Through these prayers, that mystery “permeates and transfigures the time of each day” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1174).
During the canonical hours, passages of the Psalms and scriptural proclamations are recited and pondered. Morning and evening prayer include two of the great songs of Scripture: the Canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus; Luke 1:68-79) and the Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat; Luke 1:46-55) respectively.
While priests and religious pray the Divine Office as part of their unique call, “the Liturgy of the Hours is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God” (CCC, 1175). As a result, “the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the Divine Office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually,” the catechism says.
Thanks to several apps including Laudate (on iTunes, Google Play Store and Amazon) Universalis (also on Google Play Store) and iBreviary, the laity can literally tap into this unceasing prayer of the church. How often we check our phones, those technological tyrants, searching for a loved one’s text or a social media update in the clamor of cyberspace! If only we would pause to hear God’s voice, the one true note that sustains life’s fragile symphony.
Yet even if our duties prevent us from joining the church in her Divine Office, we can always breathe a prayer between (or during) tasks, remaining in harmony with God. A single Hail Mary, a whispered “help me, Lord” — these can soften the edge in our voices and still the anxiety in our hearts, so that we can truly “sing a new song unto the Lord” (Psalm 96:1) in tune and in key.